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Surly Midnight Special

By Andy Brown, posted 27 February 2018

Contact on twitter @justridethebike

Surly's new bike secures their reputation as a bike builder that are all about doing it your own way. 

Gravel bikes, 29ers, steel frames, bike packing and rugged reliability is what you get from a Surly bike. It is a brand that feels like it doesn’t care very much for marketing, but does care a great deal about the detail that goes into the design, manufacture and the actual ride of its bikes. That’s one of the reasons why Surly is a new favourite with the JRtB team.


These bikes don’t mess about. They go anywhere - there is a huge history of people riding around the world on Surly bikes. Duncan Kennedy, the brand manager for Ison Distribution has a story about a friend who rode his to the coast and decided to just keep going. So, it is no surprise that Surly designs a lot of its bikes with active adventure in mind, especially bike packing. All of the bikes come with provision for racks front and back and extreme bike packing.

The Midnight Special


The new Midnight Special, which was launched into the UK in mid February, is no exception. It is an evolution of what Surly calls its pavement bikes (that’s American for tarmac), but this category covers pretty much all terrain. So, it is road plus - that’s the new marketing speak covering off adventure, gravel, cross and road. Basically this new bike will go anywhere you point it - maybe not coping with MTB downhill stuff as well as you’d like, but it will still stay in one piece even if you don’t.


The Midnight Special is one step on from Surly’s Pacer and isn’t too far removed from its cousin the Straggler. Road plus means you can use larger volume 650b road tires that share the same kind of profile as 700c skinny road tires - a similar concept to the one Surly used with its Karate Monkey which can run 27.5 x 3.0 or 29 x 2.4 tires without affecting the geometry. The idea is that as with off road, the larger volume road tire gives you a smoother ride, more control and better traction and at the same time means you can literally go anywhere.


That means, a bit like the Straggler did before it, that the Midnight Special is in the same kind of territory as say the Genesis Croix de Fer series, or maybe the Datum, Charge Plug 3 perhaps and also the Rondo Ruut CF1 gravel bikes. There are other bikes vaguely sharing style, or ambition, but it’s not likely they have the style and build of a Surly.


Built of Girders

One bike shop owner we spoke to said they are built of girders. They just don’t break. Ever. The Midnight Special has a 4130 ChroMoly, double-butted main triangle, ED coated, TIG-welded frame and comes in sizes from 40-64 so someone from five feet to almost seven feet tall could hit the trails on it. And so long as the off-road isn’t too extreme, you can go anywhere. The setup is good, the finishing kit is SRAM and you have a choice of a single 44 tooth ring or more conventional 50/34 x 36. The steel frame and larger tires means it can absorb lumps and bumps and the poorer quality rural roads as easily it can put up with commuter potholes, gutters and kerbs. If you live where the streets are rubbish - in winter we nearly all do in the UK - then the set up really works, you just relax and ride.


Is it better than the Croix de Fer we have raved about before? It’s a close run thing - we have seen it, touched it, talked about it but not ridden the Surly Midnight Special. But we recommend you put one on your list for testing, riding and comparing. The price is fair: £750 for the frame and forks and £2,200 for a complete bike is competitive with the top of the range Croix de Fer 30 at £1,800 and the Rondo Ruut CF1 at almost £3,200 or perhaps the Canyon Inflite range which starts at £1,600 and goes up to £3,899 for the CF SLX 9.0 Pro Race (mind you, you wouldn’t race a Midnight Special against the CF SLX).


Unique, incomparable

But don’t rely on Surly being comparable. A quick check of the Surly web site gives a sense of the brand. There is a strong leaning towards fun, but it is backed up a thorough technical knowledge and a bit of beardy, midWest (they are based in Minnesota, USA) hipster vibe lurking in the background.


Surly is not a normal brand. It wants to be non-conformist. It doesn’t care that its frames are heavy, or how they are painted. They are built for people of shapes and sizes that just want to ride and who don’t care about speed, just the journey. So that means the build quality - check the welds - is very good. All its bikes, but particularly the Midnight Special have a just ride the bike quality to them - which is why we like them and want one. Now.

Credits Surly Bikes, 2018

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